Christ

Autism Sculpts Divine Desire (ASDD)

Have you ever had to run to the store for diapers?  Well for the first 20 months or so of our son’s life we used cloth diapers, so it was never for diapers that I ran to the store.  At about that time he grew out of the cloth diapers we owned, we figured we would use disposable diapers until he was potty trained instead of making a large investment.  Of course we were quite optimistic, and continue to be.  It truly was not out of the question, for he was already learning things quickly and was sitting well on the thrown.  Little did we know that 22 months later he would still not be potty trained which we attribute to his development of autism. Now I keep a standing order of disposable diapers online so I save money, but this night we were too low before the next delivery, so I went out to Walmart.  It was late evening and busy, but not crowded.  I found myself walking through the section of Christmas items on sale, which was what we packed away earlier that day, since Epiphany had arrived.  Around the corner was another aisle of toys that were on sale.  I began to look for a toy on sale for my son.  I thought I could find a bargain and surprise him.  I must have taken ten minutes looking at all these fun toys that were on sale, but I could not find anything.   I could find many items that were age appropriate, many items that were fun, but none seemed right.

I then remembered that there were still two wrapped presents under the tree that we took down that afternoon.  They were both for our son, and it was not that he had an excessive number of presents.  This three-year-old had really no interest in Santa, or the reindeer.  He met that jolly man three times during Advent, was never scared, but also never interested.  We learned he liked the lights, the tree, and the song “Jingle Bells” (it may help that Elmo utilizes the tune for all his songs).  AJ’s stocking had a few presents, and that included his two favorites: chocolate peanut butter cups and a DVD with the Wonder Pets on it.  After that he was done; the bubble machine was loud, the books were fine,  the clothes fun for his parents, but the change of routine to rip paper off boxes was simply uninteresting to him; honestly he seem annoyed we kept showing him these wrapped items.

I should not have been so surprised, for 5 months earlier at his birthday party, his first present was a book he loved.  He opened it, saw an open place on the couch, ran from my lap where he was the center of attention, and sat right down amongst his party guests to read his beloved book.  We had to give up on him opening presents and had his “friends” open the gifts as he read his book.

Of course as a parent I am responsible to teach him, and have him taught. Of course there is the cliché that children teach us grown people, as well as Jesus telling adults to be like children.  However, there is something unique a child (a person) with autism can teach all of us, especially the church.

I believe there is a theological anthropology which helps our understanding how the Divine works with us messy humans.  An important part of this theological anthropology includes the theory of mimesis.  This theory is based on the fact that humans are social beings and our individuality and desires are based on the desires of others.  Even babies develop by mimicking their caregivers.  “It is made concrete in the imitation, learning, and repetition which is what enables an infant to become a socialized human being” (Alison 28). However, as humans develop we are socialized through  imitation and modeling, which is evident by the draw of a baby to the adult caregivers. “We all take such a draw, such a movement, for granted, though of course it isn’t automatic, as is evidenced by autistic children, who lack precisely the attraction, the draw the movement toward an adult” (Allison 27-28) I agree that my son proves that human beings are socially as well as biologically reared to adulthood, as we are struggling to teach and demonstrate the importance of the draw of socialization, especially communication.  Mimetic Theory  truly has great implication for our development of religion and our salvation through Jesus the Christ, who does not deny these desires, but wants us to model them after the perfect Divine:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

However, our socialization is based on the mimetic relationship with other humans, and not inherently the Divine.  The end result is violence.  This violence can be direct, but often results in scapegoating that happens because humans desire the same object, position, etc.  This violence is exactly what Jesus found Himself hung on a tree from, but is exactly what He saves us from.  Our desires should line up with the new age opened by the Resurrection.  However, we still have one foot in our world that our individuality is formed by the desires of others and often comes into conflict. This, though, brings up the issue of how a child with autism models someone that can avoid mimetic violence.

Walmart does sell basic items for life: fruit, vegetables, and coffee; yet much of the items depend on our desire to have items we do not truly need, but because we desire to be like others, we end up buying these items.  Of course I am not immune, which was very evident when I kept searching for a toy for AJ.  Now a lot of children have enough toys, or more toys than others, but for AJ it is that he does not fully participate in mimetic desire.  He is also still young, but generally a boy approaching 3 ½ years will want toys and not just the box (and he doesn’t even want a box either).  I watched all but one other child in his Headstart class (another boy on the spectrum), get excited and communicate their desires to a wonderful man dressed up like Santa.  That time we did get a good picture of our son with Santa, for in his stocking was an apple.  He was enamored at the apple, for he likes apples and he explored the smooth red surface as we snapped pictures, no idea he was the center of attention, nor was he going to sit with the man in the red suit.

AJ’s desires are not based as clearly on the reflection from others as a neurologically normal child.  Let me be quite frank, it is difficult, heart wrenching, scary, sad, and wonderful.  Wonderful, I write, because he makes us wonder about life.  I realized that I had been sucked into needing to buy a toy, because my desire is influenced by others and I desire to be like others.  That realization came from my son’s modeling of developing his identity with much less care of other’s desires.  What a great lesson.

The work ahead of us is to keep some of the special and unique advantages of his thinking while encouraging socialization and communication.  Honestly, I believe the best way is for those of us that are socialized to realize our desires can be based on the model Jesus suggests, which is the action of love, and that is the one desire my son has, and he has for every human being.  He is consistent and perfect like the Divine parent.  We all learn from our children; yet I believe those with the unique take on mimetic desire can teach us, as we teach them to communicate.  My prayer is that I can teach AJ to communicate, and yet still keep the desire of love the first priority; for if we model Jesus’ love, will that not be the social normative?

Work Cited:  Alison, James. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York:  Crossroad, 1998

EMMANUEL!

Jesus is not the reason for the season – neither for this calendar season nor for this season of your life. The reason for the season is Emmanuel – God with us.

It might be acceptable to be at a party with strangers, it is good to be at a party with friends, it is better to be at a party with your loved one. Take this “with-ness” one more level – that is Emmanuel – that is God with us.

God is always with us. So, the question really is: Am I with God in the same way that God is with me?

Those WWJD wristbands have it right – What Would Jesus DO – not believe, not wish, not pray, not sermonize – what would Jesus DO?

If we seriously strive to answer that question in all our actions, we will find ourselves striving to live like Jesus. Yet, such striving is inadequate. It is not that living like Jesus is not good or not good enough; it is just that there is more. That is where we find resurrection – the transformation of the human spirit. It is an earth-shaking experience. It is as if a stone has been rolled away from the entrance to our tomb. It is as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies has been ripped asunder and we are no longer prevented from entering into that place where the immediate and tangible presence of God dwells and there we find our true and best self and find our true and best self with God.

Your journey is not about living for Jesus or like Jesus. Your journey is about being Jesus, being Emmanuel, being “God with us,” being the Good News, being the Kingdom of God on Earth here and now.

Merry Christmas! Doug.

My response to an anti-emergent manifesto

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down or quantified. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” If it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along a passage which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) notes that, “After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement.”

Aside from the fact that he seems to use “emerging church” and “emergent Christian” synonymously, he does have a good sense of what I’m about, if no one else. Following are some excerpts from his list, of signs you might be an emergent:

  • if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
  • if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
  • if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
  • if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
  • if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
  • if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
  • if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
  • if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
  • if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
  • if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us…

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff.

I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me. Here are what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity, followed by my responses.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus is supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty “least of these” to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle us just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Love Wins: A God of grace for all

Love Wins: A God of grace for all by Christian Piatt

I was psyched when Jarrod McKenna, one of the contributors to the forthcoming BANNED QUESTIONS book series, told me her had an interview of Rob Bell appearing on ABC Australia's news site about Rob's new book, LOVE WINS: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived.

My initial excitement had to do with Jarrod's citation of a passage from BANNED QUESTIONS toward the end of the piece, but the central message of the interview, and apparently of the book, is far more significant than I expected.

Rather than paraphrase what Jarrod and Rob have already said so well, I'll just quote Rob from his book:

"Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith - the afterlife - arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic - eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins."

Did you hear that? It's the sound of thousands of conservative evangelicals closing their mental doors on Rob Bell in unison.

For some within mainline Christian circles, the prospect of "universal salvation," or the idea that God ultimately reconciles all of us into God's presence, regardless of our worthiness of such grace, may not be a real shock. But even the suggestion of what I consider "Christian Universalism" within evangelical circles is sure to send seismic ripples throughout the church.

And his claim has done just that.

Neo-Calvinist John Piper led the charge, bidding farewell en masse to Bell and his message of non-exclusive salvation. What, after all, do many Christians have to offer the world if not the key to unlock the gates of hell from the inside?

While Jonathan Edwards showed us, with his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon, that fear can galvanize a congregation, Bell's message is that love - and more specifically God's love - is bigger than the sum total of our fears, sins, and other shortcomings is a call in a growing chorus. This, in the truest sense of the word, is Gospel: Good News!

Chalice Press is offering a special promotion through ABC Australia of 40% off pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS books. Order in March through the Chalice Press site and enter the code "BANNEDQ1" at checkout.

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to... .........be free and independent; .........think; .........be curious; .........be intelligent and wise; .........value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; .........be creative; .........grow and mature; .........live long healthy satisfying lives; .........live non-violently without vengeance; .........be generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

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REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle

Dear Friends,.....Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. .....Regardless of where you are in time or place, body or spirit, mind or heart, ..........may the Peace and Grace and Loving Presence of God be with you always.

In previous writings, .....we have examined church, God, miracles and .....what is not the Good News.

So, what is the Good News?

The most concise answer and the best illustration is the entire chapter of Luke 15.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ..........This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

So he told them this parable:

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, .....does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and .....go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, .....he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, .....he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ..........Rejoice with me, ...............for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents .....than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin Or what woman having ten silver coins, .....if she loses one of them, .....does not light a lamp, .....sweep the house, and .....search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, .....she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ..........Rejoice with me, ....................for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there is joy in the presence of the angels of God .....over one sinner who repents.

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother Then Jesus said,

There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ..........Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me. So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had .....and travelled to a distant country, .....and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, .....a severe famine took place throughout that country, .....and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out .....to one of the citizens of that country, .....who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself .....with the pods that the pigs were eating; .....and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ..........How many of my father’s hired hands ...............have bread enough and to spare, ...............but here I am dying of hunger! ..........I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son; ..............................treat me like one of your hired hands. So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, .....his father saw him and was filled with compassion; .....he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, ..........Quickly, ...............bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; ...............put a ring on his finger ...............and sandals on his feet. ..........And get the fatted calf and kill it, ...............and let us eat and celebrate; ...............for this son of mine ...............was dead and is alive again; ...............he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; .....and when he came and approached the house, .....he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves .....and asked what was going on. He replied, ..........Your brother has come, ...............and your father has killed the fatted calf, ...............because he has got him back safe and sound.

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ..........Listen! ..........For all these years ...............I have been working like a slave for you, ...............and I have never disobeyed your command; ...............yet you have never given me even a young goat ...............so that I might celebrate with my friends. ..........But when this son of yours came back, ...............who has devoured your property ...............with prostitutes, ...............you killed the fatted calf for him!

Then the father said to him, ..........Son, ...............you are always with me, ...............and all that is mine is yours. ..........But we had to celebrate and rejoice, ...............because this brother of yours was dead ...............and has come to life; ...............he was lost and has been found. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 15)

The lamb was lost. It was the shepherd who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost lamb.

The coin was lost. It was the woman who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost coin.

Before considering the third parable, remember the requirements of The Law.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son .....who will not obey his father and mother, .....who does not heed them when they discipline him, .....then his father and his mother shall take hold of him .....and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ..........This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. ..........He will not obey us. ..........He is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; ..........and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ............................................................................................(NRSV Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The younger child, the disobedient child, is lost - even before leaving home. The lost child rejects the Parent as though the Parent were dead. Even in rejection, the Parent is exceedingly accommodating and generous. Then, this wandering aimless child lives a selfish and self-directed life and, as the child desires, a life without the Parent. Finally, the life of the child reaches a place on the path where there are no options and there is no direction forward or out. There is no chance of rescue, no charity, no hope, no family, no meaningful life and no life with meaning. There is complete separation from love and kindness and family and friendship and companionship, it is an abomination of an existence – this is death and this is hell. At such a time under such circumstances, what happens next is natural and unavoidable – the child goes home. It is not a choice. It is an inevitable continuation of the path and journey that is traveled by every lost child. The Parent has been waiting and watching because the Parent knows that some day that lost child will reach the inevitable conclusion of the unavoidable journey, the last mile of which always brings the child home. When the Parent, who has been waiting and watching, catches that first distant glimpse of the returning child; the Parent rushes out to retrieve the child, once lost and now found, to shower the returning child, again, with generous hospitality and generous accommodation and a generous re-inclusion in the family and to begin a totally maxed-out celebration. In this parable, the child never even gets to finish a well-rehearsed speech of contrition and humility. All that matters is that the wayward child is home – for the child was never lost to the Parent, the son was only lost to himself, the daughter was only lost to herself.

The older sibling, the obedient child, is not happy. (Tangential Question: Is the obedient child like the nine coins safely gathered in a known location or like the ninety-nine sheep left in the wilderness?) The obedient child wants to know: why is there a celebration for the lost when there has never been a celebration for that which was never lost? Why is there no harsh judgment? Why are there no punitive consequences for destructive decisions and a selfish unproductive wasteful life? Why is there a Parent’s happiness for a bad child – a disobedient child who never lived in accordance with the lessons and wisdom and will of the Parent? How could there possibly be room in the family for a stubborn and rebellious child who lived wastefully in rejection of the Parent’s abundance and generosity and hospitality and love? Why is there no final conclusive inescapable justice?

The Parent warmly affirms the unbroken love that the Parent has and will always have for the obedient child and gratefully acknowledges the value and sacredness of the accomplishments and stewardship of this steadfast sibling. The faithful life of the obedient child has immeasurable worth and divine appreciation. The life of the obedient child has not been in vain.

The Parent also rejects rejection. There has been enough separation. There will be no more separation – separation is finished. There will be a judgment. There will be justice that is final and conclusive and inescapable. Instead of an eternal punishment of bitter harshness, the judgment will be the repair and repatriation of the lost child. Instead of punitive isolation and abandonment, there will be acceptance and inclusion and accommodation - and a great party to which all are invited.

What should have been the behavior and response of the obedient child? How does one live the Good News?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ..........Teacher, he said, ...............what must I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him, ..........What is written in the law? What do you read there?

He answered, ..........You shall love the Lord your God ...............with all your heart, and ...............with all your soul, and ...............with all your strength, and ...............with all your mind; and ...............your neighbor as yourself.

And he said to him, ..........You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ..........And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied, ..........A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, ...............and fell into the hands of robbers, who ...............stripped him, ...............beat him, and ...............went away, ...............leaving him half dead.

..........Now by chance a priest was going down that road; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he passed by on the other side.

..........So likewise a Levite, ...............when he came to the place and saw him, ...............passed by on the other side.

..........But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he was moved with pity. ..........He went to him and bandaged his wounds, ...............having poured oil and wine on them. ..........Then he put him on his own animal, ...............brought him to an inn, and took care of him. ..........The next day ...............he took out two denarii, ...............gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ....................Take care of him; and when I come back, .........................I will repay you whatever more you spend.

..........Which of these three, ...............do you think, ...............was a neighbor ...............to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

He said, ..........The one who showed him mercy.

Jesus said to him, ..........Go and do likewise. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 10:25-37)

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; .....do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; .....do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, .....but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; .....for it is written, ...............Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, .....if your enemies are hungry, feed them; .....if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; .....for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ............................................................................................(NRSV Romans 12:13-21)

Being a disciple of the Good News is practicing generosity and hospitality; living non-violently without vengeance; living here and now as one family where all are invited, welcomed, and included without exception or qualification; living in constant relationship with God; and living here and now – not later and not someplace else – living here and now a life transformed by resurrection. The Good News – without application here and now, without making a positive and practical difference in the life of the disciple and especially in the involvement of the disciple in the lives of others – is useless and meaningless and is not the message lived and delivered by Jesus and is not of God.

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 25:35-36)

Then Peter came and said to him, ..........Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ...............how often should I forgive? ..........As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ..........Not seven times, ...............but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 18:21-22)

From its beginning, the Good News has been apolitical and non-national. When pushed to choose between faith and empire, the way of the Good News has been to respond with non-violent defiance and refusal. Our faith life is not measured by how materially abundant or wealthy is our life and not by how much political or cultural influence we have. Our faith life in no way embodies, is connected to, or dependent upon or subservient to patriotic fervor or national loyalty or good citizenship. Our faith life is measured by how we attend to and improve the lives of others – by feeding them, quenching their thirst, clothing them, visiting them in prison, healing them, and welcoming them. Keep in mind that this is a deliberately incomplete list. It works in much the same way as when Jesus tells Peter to forgive, not 7 times, but 77 times – the point being that by the time you forgive someone 77 times, it has become, not an act that has been repeated 77 times, it has become a habit, a path, a journey, a way of life. The point is that by the time you develop the habit of feeding, quenching, clothing, healing, welcoming, and visiting prisons, you have created a new life complete with new values and new goals and new vision. Once you get to this point, you have discovered and claimed (not earned) and embodied your grace-given membership in the family of God, a membership exemplified by faith, love, and service.

Something did happen on Easter morning – and just to put a label on it, we will call it the resurrection of Jesus. However, the resurrection of Jesus is of lesser importance. What is of critical and major importance is the resurrection of the disciples. If a burial box is found that undeniably contains the bones of Jesus, what is the ramification for the Good News? Nothing – it changes nothing. The message stays the same. The Good News remains vibrant and relevant and complete. The validity of our faith is built on the rock of the personal relationship that God has with each of us, not just on the relationship God had with Jesus or only on that relationship God had with the first disciples. The relationship God had with Jesus and the first disciples is instructional, not controlling.

Whatever happened on Easter morning is inferior and insufficient compared to the miracle of the resurrected lives of the disciples. As faithful followers of Jesus, they too had become, because of the crucifixion, as though dead and buried. Crucifixion was more than an execution; it was the obliteration of an entire life. In the culture of the Roman Empire, it was as if the crucified person had not just disappeared, it was as if the crucified person had never existed – that life would never again be discussed, that name would never again be mentioned. The disciples were more than grief-stricken, more than pathologically depressed, more than dangerously fatalistic; they felt obliterated – within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus was meaningless because it no longer existed. Within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus did not even rise to the level of wastefulness because it never did exist. Because of the crucifixion, throughout the entire Roman Empire, their entire experience with Jesus – the love and fellowship, the teaching and learning, the discussions and arguments and bickering, the travels and the resting and the meals together, the prayers and the worship – all their incredible experiences with Jesus had never happened. In the context of the culture of the Roman Empire, Jesus is not just dead, Jesus is non-existent - there is no Jesus, there never was a Jesus. Starting the moment when Jesus breathed his last, this was the awful and oppressive and devastating reality that blanketed and suffocated and consumed the disciples.

On Easter morning, something happened. On Easter morning, something happened that resurrected for the disciples the life and teaching of Jesus and reinvigorated their experience with Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus was resurrected - from hell, from oblivion, from death. Within 40 days, not only were the disciples resurrected, they were transformed. The Good News that resurrected and transformed their lives (and the thousands of other first-century lives transformed by that same Good News) had nothing to do with sacrificial death, empty tombs, ascensions, virgin births, or miracles. The Good News is neither concerned with nor does it require a direct and overt act of divine intervention. In any biblical story that involves such a divine action; to focus on the miraculous event is to miss completely the purpose and message of the story. To depend on or expect or require miracles is to worship at the altar of the false god of spiritual certainty.

The Good News did not and does not succeed because of miracles. The initial success of the Good News was in how it demonstrated that anyone - even someone oppressed into complete oblivion by an empire - could live a resurrected and transformed life even in a world where death, cruelty, corruption, crime, war, systemic injustice, slavery, and extreme poverty were so rampant as to be the norm. Their success in living a resurrected and transformed life even in such a world is completely relevant to our time and for all time. The Good News is that a life of resurrection and transformation does not have to be preceded by death. The Good News is that the kingdom of God is not a future event or a distant place or a strictly post-mortal existence. An "anticipated" kingdom of God is meaningless and useless. The Good News is that the kingdom of God has arrived, it is here and it is now and it is available to anyone – without exception and without qualification and without sacrifice.

To have a loving intimate relationship with God; to serve others by practicing generosity and hospitality; to seek justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, rehabilitation, inclusion, and participation; and then to live non-violently without vengeance and with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers – that is the radical and the defiant message and the transformational spirit of the universal and timeless Good News.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – –...can never separate us from the love and grace and –...the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

In Christian Love, Doug

( With great love and gratitude and appreciation, this article is dedicated to Rev. Verity Jones, Rev. Dianne Mansfield, and Rev. Jay Marshall )

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Terre Haute, Indiana. Central Christian is an open and affirming congregation where he has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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previous posts by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................the #8 most-viewed article at [D]mergent RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......and the controversial list of RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......what is not the Good News.